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A Motley Vision Mormon literature and culture 2016-09-14T21:48:02Z http://www.motleyvision.org/feed/atom/ http://www.motleyvision.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/cropped-amv-32x32.jpg Sarah Dunster <![CDATA[On Sheldon Lawrence’s Hearts of the Fathers and Categories of Relgious Fiction (with a most inappropriate comparison)]]> http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=11891 2016-09-14T21:48:02Z 2016-09-14T20:35:24Z Continue reading "On Sheldon Lawrence’s Hearts of the Fathers and Categories of Relgious Fiction (with a most inappropriate comparison)"]]> I had the pleasure of reading Sheldon Lawrence’s book Hearts of the Fathers a couple of weeks ago. Dr. Lawrence is a professor at BYU-Idaho, and when I requested to review an advance copy, he had it delivered to my husband, who also works at BYU-Idaho. When my husband picked it up and read a page on his way to delivering it to me, he stated that it read like “a book written by a BYU professor.” This worried me. He didn’t mean it in a bad way, but I’ve had some bad experiences with fiction written by BYU professors.

Then I began to read it, and to my pleasure, I was immediately drawn in. The character development is good, the world-building is good. The pacing works well. It reads like a well-written work of speculative fiction.

But I could see what my husband meant, too. It’s definitely got that “self-help, LDS doctrine,” sort of flavor. As I read, I was trying to think where to place it, genre-wise. Self-help? Doctrine? Fiction? It was fiction…

It puzzled me, bugged me, and caused me much enjoyment. It was teaching me some important things. It gave me a lot of “aha” moments, a lot of new and interesting ways to look at the doctrine of the atonement, repentance, forgiveness, the human family and eternal families, heaven and hell. I came away from reading it with a lot of new insights. Enjoyable, complex ones. I’ll be “ponderizing” this book for quite a while.

So what is it? Doctrine or Novel?

I’ve decided that I’m going to categorize it as “Parabolic Fiction.” In order to couch this label properly, I’m going to compare the types and degrees of religious fiction, completely inappropriately, to the types and degrees of romance novels.

Those of us who write adult contemporary Women’s Fiction know (sometimes painfully) that almost all of it can be categorized by the general public as “romance.” If it’s got a love interest or a theme of romantic involvement running through it, and it’s written by a woman, it’s almost unequivocally labeled as Romance.

But there are degrees and types of Romance.

There’s “Chick-Lit,” where the focus is on the development of a strong/interesting/quirky female protagonist, and the romantic theme is just a peripheral element of the plot/story development.

There’s Romance (capital R) where the main theme is the relationship that develops between two characters. There can be other elements to the story–often a unique setting makes up a large bulk of the story, e.g. Historical Romances, Sci Fi or Fantasy Romances, Paranormal Romances; lots of different genres with great world-building. But main plot is focused on a romantic relationship.

There’s Romantica, where the focus is still on the relationship between two main characters, but a drawing element is some sexuality. The relationship brings the reader in, and the sex is kind of sprinkles on the frosting on the cake. It’s part of the setting. Like including swearing to make a gritty character more authentic, sex is included to lend a certain flavor to the relationships between the characters and further the plot, and to bring in some readers who enjoy it.

There’s Erotica. One of the purposes of the Erotica story is actually for a reader to vicariously enjoy the sex (which generally carries the plot forward, but tends to be pretty specific and graphic) and sometimes the entire purpose of the story is, plainly, sex.

(Please pardon me, Dr. Lawrence, and others reading this. I promise I have a point. And I promise I tried to find another adequate comparison, but this one kept coming to mind.)

When we’re talking about religious writings, we could separate them, I think, into similar categories, using similar distinctions.

There are hard-core religious writings, where there might be an overarching theme that ties everything together (for instance, Neal A Maxwell’s book That Ye May Believe which uses letters to his grandchildren to explain and tie together gospel discussions) but the focus and purpose of the book is the doctrine.

There are parables and fables, where doctrine has been shaped into a story, for the purpose of helping a reader understand the doctrine.

There are stories that are told to put readers right in the center of a gospel concept–to help them experience something that will then lead to a discussion of, and hopefully understanding of a piece of doctrine or philosophy important to the writer. Things such as “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand and Dante’s “inferno,” are great examples of this.  And I’d argue that this is also where Hearts of the Fathers belongs. I’m calling this type of writing Parabolic Fiction.

And then there are stories that are there mostly for the story, but the inspiring seed of the story is a certain philosophy or doctrine important to the writer. I’d put things such as The Grapes of Wrath, We Were the Mulvaneys, Roots, Love Letters of the Angel of Death, and many other novels in this category. There’s a clear agenda on the part of the writer, but the story flows without obvious doctrinal instruction. These are works of literary fiction that are unapologetically steeped in the author’s beliefs. I think they would just be categorized as literary fiction, but maybe we could come up with a term for these as well, particularly as people who study LDS fiction.

As a piece of Parabolic Fiction, Hearts of the Fathers is wonderful. Sheldon Lawrence’s specialty is after-life experiences. In the jacket blurb, we’re told that the story is inspired by hundreds of near-death experiences (which Lawrence collected). This alone piques my interest and makes the read worthwhile. I found myself wondering, as the story went on, which pieces came from different people and experiences.

Here’s my biggest critique of Hearts of the Fathers:

At times, the language grew a bit scriptural, or, for lack of a better word, “LDS-church-historic-al.” It’s a type of purple prose that I think might be unique to works written about LDS church doctrine. Some examples are phrases like: “in great meekness,” “lower than the dust,” or words like “condescend,” “awoke,” “stupor.” Things that we just don’t normally say in real life, and so they draw attention to themselves at the expense of the story and lend an air of trying to be scriptural. And honestly, I think we do it unconsciously. I know I use these “scripturalisms,” when I write in my journal about spiritual experiences. When I pray. As LDS people, we’re sort of conditioned that way.

Having gotten to know Dr. Lawrence in the last few weeks, I know that he is a pretty regular, humble, funny, self-depreciating guy. I think the scripturalisms are, like I said, just habit. But one that I feel would serve other works well to be broken.

Here’s my favorite thing about Hearts of the Fathers:

It is a very different look at the atonement. As I read the story, I was entertained and startled by the way the story turned the concept of repentance on its head and helped me understand how heaven and hell and eternal glory/damnation fit with the concept of a fiercely loving, paternal (and maternal) God. I don’t want to give it away, because the story really does serve to capture a complex, multifaceted concept remarkably well if you follow it through. But it involves freedom of choice, which does not end after death. The character makes choices… to be damned or redeemed, to repent or not, which is not something I think we often think about or discuss. Often, in LDS culture, we see death as an end of choice. After reading Lawrence’s book, I wonder how we could possibly assume that the one thing God cherishes most, and leaves us with–agency–would not continue throughout eternity.

Now that I’ve written this review, my husband is free to steal it from me and read it. He’s been trying for week now, running off with it his work backpack, hiding it in his overstuffed bookcase, etc. He’s excited to read it because of… wait for it….

the conversations it generated between us.

So go read it, and have some conversations.


Theric Jepson http://thmazing.com <![CDATA[LTUE Call for Papers]]> http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=11887 2016-09-09T16:30:53Z 2016-09-09T16:30:53Z ltue

Theric Jepson http://thmazing.com <![CDATA[Reading The Devil Is Due in Dreary as a Mormon text]]> http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=11868 2016-09-08T18:49:32Z 2016-09-08T18:49:32Z Continue reading "Reading The Devil Is Due in Dreary as a Mormon text"]]> devild.

David Parkin gave me a copy of The Devil Is Due in Dreary after my Comic-Con presentation. He’s a friend of a friend and we all ate dinner together, discussing the nature of being a Mormon and an artist and/or a Mormon artist. Also, I’m sad to share, I heard some unpleasant stories about bias against Mormons in Tinseltown. So there’s that.

Anyway, The Devil Is Due in Dreary shares some surface traits with Pariah Missouri—terrifyingly authoritarian religious orders in a Western setting tinged with the supernatural. But Dreary is either modern or near-modern and thus Dreary the town isn’t merely frontier (as is Pariah), but isolated—a pocket of the past trapped in the modern world.

Visually, the book is reasonably strong. The design of the devil is particularly good. The panel layouts frequently include needlessly baroque gewgaws that are attractive but distracting. The little missteps do mean that important visual elements—say, the fact that two main characters have similarly damaged faces—made me assume clutter rather than significance, which got in the way of proper reading. The style overall is reminiscent of early-to-mid-90s Image, if that’s your thing.

I’m more interested today in the writing and story however, as Parkin promised me the possibility of a distinctly Mormon interpretation if read through that lens.

Let’s begin with an excerpt from an interview Parkin gave about the book:

= — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — =
— = — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — = —
= — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — = — =

RJS:      The story has strong religious overtones to it, did you draw on personal experiences to layer that on the story, or are you looking at how the religious Right is acting out in modern-day society?

David: It’s interesting, non-religious people usually see the book as a critical take on organized religion and religious people see it as a cautionary tale for those who follow too blindly. Personally, the message I want to convey is to beware of anyone who offers to do your thinking for you. That’s good advice no matter where your affiliations lie.

The Devil is Due in Dreary: An interview with David Parkin


That right there is a very Mormon statement, imho. And it offers a key that might correct a misreading like the one we see in this review (incidentally, I mostly agree with this review, but I do think it’s off thematically, leading it to more negative conclusions than I reach).

So while there are Mormon (or generically Judaeo-Christian) references, the most fruitful “Mormon reading” of the book comes through this idea that agency is primal and vital.

In Mormon thought, we often think of “the devil” as someone who wished to curtail our agency before life ever began, more than as someone trying to get us to make bad choices now (we have both devils, of course, but the former gets more airplay in my experience). But that’s not how the devil in Dreary works. He just appears every decade or so to take the evil away—those who have already sinned; he’s more of a judge of how characters have already acted, rather than forcing or encouraging them to act in a certain way.

The role of agency-denier then is wielded not by the Devil but by the town preacher. His power over the town is such that almost everyone does whatever he says. He proffers fear of the Devil as motivation, but in actual effect, it’s more peer pressure that keeps people in line. The townsfolk’s desire to fit in may thus the true thief of their agency.

Let’s talk for a moment about those “non-religious people [who] usually see the book as a critical take on organized religion,” shall we? That’s a hard position to take unless you know virtually nothing about the realities and varieties of organized religion, but okay: let’s consider it anyway.

Are our two outlaws who ride into town and see Dreary’s parishioners as a mindless, monstrous mass on to something?

Well, the bugaboo of the 1860s West might have agreed. Here’s Brigham Young: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are lead by him.”

But the thing about The Devil Is Due in Dreary is its seeming desire to have it both ways. It seems to place the onus of agency renegement on the leaders of the people, but any source of redemption—of reclaiming the power to choose—needs to come from the people. And when the Devil does come, he seems to hold the town’s leadership responsible for the sins of the people, but it’s the people who are left without an identity or path forward, having lost their leaders and their agency in one, fell, Devil-inflicted blow.

Whether these muddled observations detract from the point or, in fact, are the point, I will leave as an exercise for the reader.


Theric Jepson http://thmazing.com <![CDATA[Mormon Easter Eggs and Mormon Veins of Goldin Pariah Missouri]]> http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=11871 2016-08-29T23:58:46Z 2016-08-29T23:58:46Z Continue reading "Mormon Easter Eggs and
Mormon Veins of Gold
in Pariah Missouri"

As this post appears, you have less than one day to get into the Pariah Missouri Kickstarter, so open that in a new tab now, so’s you don’t forget.

You may recall that I’ve mentioned this comic before, but that was before I’d read it. Now I have and I’m ready to talk about its Mormon elements.

pariahmissouri01The first thing to know is that all I can discuss at present of the story’s first two volumes as the third and presumably final volume is the Kickstarter’s raison d’être. Therefore I will not be attempting any sort of Meaning of the Work as a Whole or analyzing its Mormon elements with that sort of goal in mind. Rather, my interest today is comparing the Mormon aspects of the two books available now. After all—that’s what the author challenged me to do!

(The author, Andres Salazar, sent me review copies gratis.)

First, some generic comments that I might bring up if this were a more typical comics review (I’ll alternate positive and negative):

The art is awesome!

So much of the characters’ motivations is buried beneath the surface that sometimes it’s hard to figure why they do what they do.

Not only the pencils and inks which are beautiful and breathe, but the coloring is fascinating—love that limited palette.

Some of the dialect is inconsistent and sometimes the lettering slips from its balloons.

The writing and art both are propulsive and filled with energy.

Okay. Enough of that. Let’s get Mormon.

Book One: Answering the Call

Book One has Mormon elements, but they really amount to no more than winks and asides—Easters eggs, if you will. Characters with names like Hiram and Kane and Buchanan and Pratt. A teenage boy who uses a seerstone to find treasure. A civic leader who looks a lot like Brigham Young. A fellow who casts spells with magic words like ADAM ONDI AHMAN and MAHONRI MORIANCUMER. And, more importantly, a map that places Pariah just north of Independence, and characters talking of nearby Clay County.

But that’s really all that Answering the Call has to offer. And it has similar winking references to The Simpsons and Beat poets, so I’m cautious to draw too much significance.

Book Two: The Promised Land

The primary element introduced in Book Two is conflict between two preachers. One who, we learn, has driven out previous evils including the Mormons, and one who’s just come to town.

pariahmissouri02This is some ambiguous stuff, if you’re trying to do a Mormon reading of the text. For instance, Elijah, the old fellow who’s been in town a while, he engages in a lot of activities that, for a Mormon audience, would usually be markers of not merely not Mormon, but also crazy and dangerous and evil and the dark side of religion—dancing with vipers and turning people into zombies, for instance.

At the same time, he’s collecting spiritual wives. Which would seem to be a Mormon marker, if an icky one. The same can be said of him namedropping blood atonement. Mormon? Yes. Pleasurably so? Ah, no.

But that’s just one element of Book Two that’s upping the Mormon game.

This time, instead of Easter eggs, there’s a vein of Mormonism to be mined running through the text.

(Incidentally, I think this next bit is an error, but I like to think that the change in location Pariah makes from Book One’s map to Book Two’s map is symbolic of this Mormony increase. Pariah leaps across the Missouri River, according to these two maps, East to West—almost as if it’s leaving our abandoned Zion and directing itself to our new home in the mountains. This is also fitting as the location of Pariah in Book Two is frequently equated both to Zion and to a mysterious land, both important and cursed according to the native, displaced people who once lived there. Just where is Pariah? And what importance does that hold beyond the geographic?)

Something difficult about recognizing Mormon veins is distinguishing them from merely Christian veins. For instance, when Elijah is quoting scripture—the Bible—is that Mormon-specific enough to count, so long as the author is LDS? I dunno.

The most interesting thing we find when following the Mormon markers, however, is the balance built between two of Elijah’s ideas: the United Order and Outer Darkness.

The latter is an opium den and both a place where his followers sort of lose their souls and sort of prove their worth in a confused manner appropriate to such a place. The story’s heroes (whom Elijah labels “THE HARLOT, THE BEAST, THE CURSE OF HAM AND THE SODOMITE”) are “UNWORTHY OF OUTER DARKNESS” and thus fated to be sacrificed upon the Stone of Golgotha, after which his congregation is named.

This does not come to pass (there is a Book Three on the way, after all), but a Blood Atonement had already been executed upon the new preacher in town, whose final words are Joseph Smith’s final words and whose fate is a more gory crucifixion and whose blood is drunk by the congregation.

Even though Elijah is the character dropping most of the Mormon markers, he does not engage in the most Mormon/Christian/Christlike of acts—he kills for power rather than dies for others.

Which is how the balance with the United Order comes in. Elijah talks about everything being everyone’s, but it’s a satanic vision. His vision and his agency are the only ones that matter among the Golgothans as he slowly saps them of choice, family, even identity. He’s in cahoots with the city-running protomobsters—perhaps with the hope that all that’s theirs will also be his, but instead they charge him double tithing to stay and work his craft.

The best example of Elijah’s evil Order may be comparing him to Jasper, the new preacher in town. Jasper comes to salve souls. Elijah praises him and tries to make him an underling. When someone else compliments the effect of his preaching, Jasper attributes its success to the Holy Spirit. Jasper is slow to judge and takes his time to pray and to receive revelation. Elijah is too busy rushing from power grab to power grab. It’s not clear if Elijah knows what supernatural forces he is in league with—or that he cares, so long as his power grows. Jasper is more careful to understand what is before him.

The comparison between these two preachers then can be read a complicated and ambiguous examination of the first of Terryl Givens’s paradoxes: “Authority and Radical Freedom.”

Elijah demands authority and claims radical freedom only for himself. Jasper assumes everyone has freedom and must choose the proper authority for themselves. Elijah is lynched when his authoritarianism clashes against more powerful men’s. Jasper is sacrificed to an evil god when he asserts his freedom against Elijah’s authority. Recursive circles of freedom and authoritarianism.

This notes are just a first-read response. I suspect I may not even be following the most fruitful veins.

The final question for me, however, is, in the end, are the Mormon elements of Pariah Missouri just window dressing for people in the club? or do they add layers of meaning that can matter to a careful reader?

What we see in the first two volumes is moving from one answer to the other. I’m curious to see if the trend continues.

Theric Jepson http://thmazing.com <![CDATA[Art & Belief]]> http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=11825 2016-08-09T05:25:40Z 2016-08-09T05:25:40Z Continue reading "Art & Belief"]]> .

Part I: Whoops.

Somehow I failed to post this earlier this week. I hope you weren’t coming anyway.

Nathan Florence has directed a new documentary, Art & Belief, about a handful of artists including Trevor Southey and Dennis Smith, who believed not only that Mormonism and fine art were compatible, but that together they could change the world.

The Bay Area Mormon Studies Council is hosting Florence as he shares and discusses a twenty-minute excerpt this Sunday.

Here’s an interview with Florence for more information on the movement and his project, and here’s Terryl Givens on the movement. Visit the website if you would like to receive updates such as additional upcoming events or the film’s rollout.

Part II: A couple takeaways.

For some reason I hadn’t bothered to google him prior, but Nathan Florence is a painter, and a pretty good one at that (based on the jpgs).

I hope to do more on this film as time goes on, but for now, here are two nice quotations from the extant 20 minutes:

“Illustration answers questions. Art asks questions.”
– – – Dennis Smith (I think it was Dennis Smith)

“Vulnerability equals intimacy.”
– – – Trevor Southey (this one I know is correctly attributed)

Part III: What to do with $100,000.

They have a distributor and big names like Sterling Van Wagenen and Lesley Chilcott are on-board, but they need money to finish it. AMV readers are famed for their deep pockets and generous natures so, you know, get yourself an executive-producer credit.

Tyler http://fireinthepasture.org <![CDATA[Notes Toward a Mormon Theology of the Word: A Working Response to Jack Harrell’s Writing Ourselves]]> http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=11861 2016-08-04T15:19:56Z 2016-08-04T15:19:56Z Continue reading "Notes Toward a Mormon Theology of the Word: A Working Response to Jack Harrell’s Writing Ourselves"]]> My review essay on Jack Harrell’s recently released book, Writing Ourselves: Essays on Creativity, Craft, and Mormonism, went live on the AML website yesterday. Since Harrell seems to position the book as a conversation starter (but really, isn’t that what all books are for?), I used my response to converse with the way he explicitly and implicitly addresses what in the review I call “a Mormon theology of the Word” and to consider possible ways of elaborating that theology into something more robust that can inform discussions of what Mormonism has to offer theories of language use. My notes on the book participate in my perpetual explorations of that topic. I’m posting the first section of my review here and linking to the full text in hopes of opening a channel for continuing the conversation that Harrell carries on in Writing Ourselves and that I pick up in my essay.

So, if something strikes you, even if you haven’t yet read the book, please comment below.

Here’s my opening section:

Notes Toward a Mormon Theology of the Word: A Working Response to Jack Harrell’s Writing Ourselves

“The universe,” writer Jack Harrell claims, “is fundamentally absurd.” By nature, he argues, it’s out of tune and tends toward chaos. Enter God, an eternal personage who, by virtue of habits of being developed during an aeons-long process of development, seeks to call chaos to order, to resolve the discordant system. By Harrell’s estimation this makes God the ultimate Sense-Maker, the Source of meaning in a place that doesn’t of itself make sense. Addressing Mormonism’s “Creator-God” in an essay titled “Making Meaning as a Mormon Writer,” which is included in Harrell’s recent essay collection, Writing Ourselves, Harrell asserts that “God enters that corner” of the universe where “perilous chaos” reigns “and creates something from the raw materials there. This is what God does; this is who he is.” Then Harrell distills his claims about God-as-Creative-Being to a five word statement: “God is literally logos, meaning.” Drawn from the figure of God presented in the Johannine Gospel—”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” where Word translates the Greek term Logos—Harrell’s portrayal casts deity as the Supreme Rational Being whose creative power emerges from the significance inscribed on his being. Which is to say that meaning is in his eternal DNA. By this line of reasoning, which undergirds the main ideas Harrell pursues in Writing Ourselves, without meaning and the processes by which meaning is made and propagated, God is naught and existence is absurd.

If God is meaning-embodied, to emulate God—as Mormons believe we’re made to do—is to privilege (above all things) meaning and the processes by which meaning is made and propagated. Harrell suggests that Mormon writers should take this work seriously, as a matter of devotion to craft and to Christ, who as the Logos is, in Harrell’s words, “language and reason itself, making communication and meaning possible.” His parallel clauses suggest that, for Harrell, language is the province of communication and reason the province of meaning. It follows from my latter statement that to make meaning as a Mormon writer I must reason as God reasons. I must look “at unorganized matter,” at the absurdity and chaos of existence, and envision ways of bringing such foolishness to order, of shaping something logical from things illogical. We do this work every time we tell stories. Whether we compose them in writing or aloud, whether we’re working writers or relating events to a friend, we have a tendency to seek meaning in and to impose meaning on the happenings, the flow, and the structure of our lives. We may take this tendency as a given aspect of our being, as a characteristic developed during premortal aeons spent in God’s presence then carried into mortality. But must this be the case? What if we aren’t born predisposed to seek or to make meaning but we grow into the tendency? What if in terms of being as such—especially on the scale of eternal existence—meaning-making and reason are corollaries to more vital work? What if making meaning isn’t God’s—and by extension our—only or even highest purpose?

Read the full review on the flipside of this link.

Sarah Dunster <![CDATA[Taking Our Stories to a General Audience: A review of The Librarian Shoots a Gun, by Amber Gilchrist]]> http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=11838 2016-08-01T05:46:20Z 2016-08-01T00:29:12Z Continue reading "Taking Our Stories to a General Audience: A review of The Librarian Shoots a Gun, by Amber Gilchrist"]]> Amber Gilchrist is an independent writer of fiction that is unapologetically LDS and aimed at a general audience. When I set into reading her newest novel, The Librarian Shoots a Gun, it was with the intent of studying how she grounds her general readers in LDS culture–what she feels a need to explain, and how she does it without interrupting the flow of her story.

Because of recent discussions like this one, I think the topic is a relevant one as we (LDS artists) continue to work on expanding the market for fiction with LDS theme and/or content, beyond just an LDS audience. Independent authors like Gilchrist and our very own Moriah Jovan are a great place to look, because they are actually doing this– successfully marketing their fiction, which is LDS in content, to a general audience.

The Librarian Shoots a Gun is very much fun, chick-fluff, cozy mystery goodness. I love me a good cozy mystery now and then, especially when I’m sick, which I was this weekend, so it really worked out, reading this. And, I really loved it.

The story is fairly simple and formulaic in plot, but with hilarious twists and delightful character development:

Our main character is Audrey: a tiny, feisty, still-not-married, thirty-something LDS librarian. (And already, our theme is interesting. Our character is disenfranchised because of a distinctly LDS phenomenon: the “menace to society” factor. This theme is developed well throughout the story.) Audrey is headed off to a friend’s wedding when the best man goes missing, and there is a police search involved, because a murder took place, and missing best man is the main suspect.

When said best man surprises Audrey by hiding in her closet that night, she breaks his nose and sends him off bleeding, but not before he successfully convinces her of his innocence. Audrey gets a feeling he is in real trouble, so like any avenging angel returned-missionary librarian-romantic type, she decides to take matters into her own hands, track him down, and find out who the real murderers were, using her bookish skills and martial-arts skills.

Unfortunately, the frighteningly handsome, frustratingly taciturn special agent assigned to the case takes an interest in her, following her around, trying to catch her making contact with the missing best-man.

In the beginning, the story did feel a bit choppy. There was a bit of aside-and-explanation as Gilchrist acquainted the reader with such LDS terms as “ward,” “bishop,” the concept of temple marriage, etc. But as the story wound on, these asides seemed less intrusive. I could see how a general reader wouldn’t mind them, because they do inform the story. In fact, a crucial turning point in the plot had everything to do with LDS culture and beliefs. So in the end, I wound up feeling like these explanations were not extraneous, but rather, integral to the story as a whole. However, I wish they’d been incorporated a bit more seamlessly… instead of chocolate chips of information in a delicious brown-sugar cookie, I’d like more of a chocolate swirl. But I think all of us who are working hard to figure out what it means to market LDS culture to a general audience are always exploring how to do this.

In all, the story was delightful, engaging, and everything I’d want a cozy mystery to be. It’s also intelligently written. The language is high-brow, the jokes sly and smooth–quick asides that left me chuckling all the way through. I loved the blend of sarcasm and sweetness… joking about LDS culture, but loving it, too. I think this makes the LDS-ness of the story even more palatable to a reader–the sense that we know how absurd some things may sound to people not of LDS culture, and we can laugh at ourselves at the same time as we can hold close beliefs that are special and sacred to us. There are a lot of independent LDS writers who are doing this especially well right now, and I believe that looking to the independent LDS market is the right frontier if we’re trying to find examples to follow of fiction that is unapologetically LDS, and we’re planning on sending it out to a general audience.

The Librarian Shoots a Gun nursed me through a sinus infection. I ate about a half of a chocolate cake while I read it, and I’m not sure which was more comforting, the book or the confection.



Theric Jepson http://thmazing.com <![CDATA[SDCC and Pariah Missouri]]> http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=11826 2016-07-28T03:01:29Z 2016-07-28T03:01:29Z Continue reading "SDCC and Pariah Missouri"]]> .

Trevor Alvord and I gave presentations at the recently completed San Diego Comic-Con International. I may get around to connecting the subpar audio to the slideshow, but if you’re interested you can look at the pictures sans commentary now. If you have questions, please ask.

One of the first and most worth discussions questions we took during our Q&A came from Andres Salazar, a writer/artist I’d never heard of before and creator of Pariah Missouri, an indirectly Mormon-themed Western.

The gist of the question was this:

How do we decide, as Mormon creators, how much Mormon to stick into our works?

We should have hosted a panel with creators just to address that question. It’s a good one, and later that evening at dinner with some Mormon filmmakers, we rehashed it.

My answer at the time, basically, was that more specific works are more universal, and we can trust audiences to keep up with fully Mormon works. I made the Maus comparison and should have mentioned American Born Chinese—two widely beloved comics that make the point.

Anyway. That’s it for this minireport. I have some books that were given to me that I’ll write up here on AMV in the near future.

Until then, join me in checking out Pariah Missouri. But don’t dawdle! It has an active Kickstarter and now’s the time to get in. Third volume’s the last volume, so if you want a supernatural western with a Mormony aftertaste, act now.

William Morris http://williamhenrymorris.com/ <![CDATA[Zion, Utopias and being politically agnostic artists]]> http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=11735 2016-07-22T04:06:12Z 2016-07-22T03:32:14Z Continue reading "Zion, Utopias and being politically agnostic artists"]]> Based on the evidence we have (the scriptures), it seems to me that it takes extraordinary social, political and economic conditions for a community of believers to form a Zion state. The city of Enoch required a separate city-state protected by a prophet who could work miracles to keep enemies at bay. The no-ites found in Fourth Nephi required a series of natural catastrophes which caused the deaths of thousands (and thus a major reduction of the population) and (presumably) disrupted existing economic and political structures, followed by a personal visit from the resurrected Christ, and the personal calling of Twelve Apostles in front of hundreds, perhaps, thousands of witnesses and all that even managed only two generations worth of Zion. The post-Millennium situation requires Jesus Christ himself to vanquish evil and rule personally (not to mention a fairly dramatic restructuring of the physical elements of the planet itself). Even the not fully successful attempts at establishing Zion, such as certain periods among the Nephites and/or Lamanites, the people of Israel, and the early Mormons required a fairly homogenous population forged out of much tribulation (and, generally, a prophet who was also the main political leader).  And all of those periods were difficult, fragile, and short-lived.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about neo-liberalism and the way in which it erodes families, communities and individuals in the service of technocratic utopian visions, which while may be sincere and well-meaning on the part of some are undergirded by the demands of capital. I am by nature and experience a political pragmatist and radical centrist. Which means I find value in libertarian and Marxist and democratic socialist and crunchy conservative critiques of neo-liberalism (and of each other). But I also find myself frustrated by and/or deeply skeptical of the solutions proposed by each of those political philosophies.

So I think what I’ve arrived at is that all utopias–all ideal states that are not Zion–are flawed and something to be fought against. All political philosophies tend to have elements of them that are totalizing. That are willing to sacrifice humanity and human agency on the altar of the political philosophy.

Satan’s plan is not socialism. It’s not neo-liberalism. It’s not Marxism or libertarianism or anarchism. It’s any world view that attempts to totalize, that degrades, that dehumanizes–that can swerve into fascism on the way to utopia. Anything that loses patience with human agency and sacrifices human compassion on the altar of expediency and tries to smooth out the messiness of this physical existence through force or coercion or seduction.

While engagement in the democratic process is necessary, important and can lead to much good in the world. While engagement in the economic and cultural marketplace is necessary, important and can even lead to much good in the world. While we as Latter-day Saints are not called to the monastery, the compound, the commune, the enclave, I worry that we are too often too much in the world.

I think this is especially dangerous for artists. I’m not calling for solely apolotical art or artists to not engage in politics. Artists shouldn’t be willfully blind to the realities of the modern world. In fact, I think artists should be in dialogue with current political and socio-economic thought and action. I think artists should be angry, concerned, hopeful, curious, engaged and informed about the world. I don’t believe that art for art’s sake is actually possible or desirable.

But I also think that artists, and especially Mormon artists, should have at their core a deep skepticism of utopian solutions and an ultimately agnostic stance towards politics that prods them to interrogate the reifying language of politicians and technocrats even when (especially when!) they happen to lean towards a particular party platform and/or candidate. We should want to make the world a better place within the current social, economic and political constraints. In order to do so, we have to work with the ideas and people of our time. It’s just that Zion should be this pulsating hope inside us that repels other ideologies from burrowing all the way through to our inner core worldview and artistic themes and concerns.

Am I wrong about this?

Note: comments are welcome — this is not, however, an invitation to talk about politics in general or any one politician or party, and rather about artists positioning in relation to the discourse of politics.

Theric Jepson http://thmazing.com <![CDATA[Theric at San Diego Comic-Con International]]> http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=11815 2016-07-20T06:22:27Z 2016-07-20T06:22:27Z Continue reading "Theric at
San Diego Comic-Con International"

As part of this ongoing hoax of me being expert, I will be presenting on Mormons in Comics with Trevor Alvord (BYU librarian and the man who has unquestionably outraced me in expertise).




People discussed in my presentation will also be present including Tyler Kirkham (on at least one panel), Ryan Ottley (booth 4601), Mike and Laura Allred (Eisner Awards), Jed Henry (not in my presentation but in the Nucleus booth). There are some other Mormon or Mormon-adjacent folk there as well. Noah Van Sciver is also nominated for an Eisner but, ah, I neglected to ask if he’ll be there.